Restoring Muni service to pre-pandemic levels will require additional funding, extensive hiring and easing of health order restrictions. While transit officials say 100 percent service restoration is not yet possible, they hope to get most of the way there by early 2022.
Julie Kirschbaum, the director of transit for the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, told the agency’s Board of Directors Tuesday that she expects to have about 85 percent of scheduled Muni service hours back by early next year.
The agency faces several hurdles before returning to service levels to normal levels, including an unstable source of funding, more than 800 staff vacancies and a workforce exhausted by the pandemic began.
“We are not going to be able to do everything with 85 percent service levels, but we are going to be able to do a lot of important things.”
Staff reduction that helped the agency financially survive during the pandemic is now complicating Muni service recovery, she said, adding:
“We’re going to really struggle to rebuild because the hiring process is very complex, and we’re digging out of a very big hole.”
Federal stimulus funding, including the most recent American Rescue Plan, has helped fill revenue gaps through fiscal year 2023, but transit officials caution against restoring all pre-pandemic service without a stable source of funding beyond FY23.
The agency will also be challenged to fill operator and transit supervisor positions, a process that could take months.
The retirement rate among operators decreased during and due to the pandemic, Kirschbaum said. A June “right-sizing” may lead to further attrition when those who have delayed retirement choose to leave.
Additionally, staff who have worked nonstop through the health crisis will be due some deserved time off.
“There’s going to definitely be an increased need for people to travel and be out of town over the coming year.”
Due to the staffing shortage, the K-Ingleside, M-Ocean View and L-Taraval are not likely to return this year, but Kirschbaum said:
“That may change as we understand a lot of different uncertainties, all of which are related to the pace at which we promote rail operators as well as our training demands.”
The plan in May is to return the N-Judah and reopen the subway from West Portal to Embarcadero stations using the T-Thrd rail line, which was partially restored in January.
The F-Market/Wharves line will also return to service seven days a week, providing a way for passengers to get to Pier 39 and Fisherman’s Wharf — an important route for both workers and tourists. Kirschbaum noted that construction work related to the Better Market Street project will require the route be shortened in the fall.
The agency is also focusing on restoring some Muni service in neighborhoods with steep hills. Kirshbaum said there will be a Muni route that will cover most of the 36-Teresita route and parts of the Diamond Heights neighborhood in May.
“We’re really hearing from our seniors who appreciated our ETC (Essential Trip Card) program, but needed to make more regular trips.”
Come fall, the agency will extend focus to adding hilltop service, closing service gaps and preparing for students to return to schools. Service level increases are contingent on the Department of Public Health lifting capacity limits for public transportation vehicles.
The Powell-Hyde cable service will return for limited hours in the fall, as announced by officials earlier this month.
Kirschbaum said the agency is covering about 95 percent of land area in The City where residents are within a quarter mile of a transit stop. She hopes the agency can achieve about 98 percent service restoration citywide once capacity constraints are lifted.
Directors have asked Kirschbaum to present the board with Muni service updates every four to six weeks.
Jerold serves as a reporter and San Francisco Bureau Chief for SFBay covering transportation and occasionally City Hall and the Mayor's Office in San Francisco. His work on transportation has been recognized by the San Francisco Press Club. Born and raised in San Francisco, he graduated from San Francisco State University with a degree in journalism. Jerold previously wrote for the San Francisco Public Press, a nonprofit, noncommercial news organization. When not reporting, you can find Jerold taking Muni to check out new places to eat in the city.